MCPS has done away with semester and final exams. Instead, each quarter is now punctuated with a Required Quarterly Assessment (RQA), and final grades are configured using the two quarterly grades and “averaging” them. While eliminating exams may relieve stress for some, it may do more harm than good.
Under the old grade configuration system, exams would often make or break a student’s final grade. This was stressful and nerve-wracking; doing well on an exam requires hours of preparation, followed by an extended period of anxiously awaiting the result. Eliminating this process makes school more pleasant. Also, students enjoy the new system because it often improves our grades. When someone receives two grades separated by one letter, they now receive the higher of the two grades, rather than relying on an exam to raise the final grade.
However, exams may be a necessary evil, as they constitute an objectively fair way to determine a final grade. A student who has gotten an A one quarter and a B the next, for example, has not really demonstrated that they deserve an A instead of a B for the semester. A student who receives those quarterly grades, followed by an A on the exam, however, absolutely does deserve an A. Final exams allow students to prove that they have mastered a class’s content, and therefore deserve a good grade.
Another problem with eliminating exams is that they likely carry long-term benefits. In college, virtually every class will include a final exam. In many classes, exam scores will serve as a substantial percentage of a students’ grade. Ideally, college students will have had some experience with high-stakes testing, which can arm them with an understanding of how to prepare for exams. By eliminating final exams, MCPS has stripped its college-bound students of this knowledge and experience, thereby leaving them ill-prepared for the rigors of college.
Proponents of the abolishment of exams argue that by eliminating exam week, teachers have an extra week of content to teach. For example, according to an interview in The Washington Post by Patricia O’Neill, a Montgomery County Board of Education member who served as its president when exams were eliminated, “Parents and educators want more teaching and less testing.” The flaw in this argument lies in the fact that exam days are not wasted educational days. Exams give students experience in preparing for high-stakes tests, a skill that carries importance throughout one’s educational career. Plus, students often forget much of what they learn throughout the year. Exams force students to relearn anything they have lost.
MCPS’s new system has frequently benefited its students; it has often raised grades, and eliminated stressful exams. But even high school students know that what we like is not necessarily what is best for us in the long run. Bringing back exams, which provide a rational means for grade configuration and prepare students for the future, just might be a sacrifice worth making.